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Career burnout: what is it, what are the signs, what to do about it

28 October 2022 at 10:09 am
Jenni D'Orival
Guest blogger, Gembridge's Jenni D'Orival unpacks career burnout and explains why it's important you be able to spot it and deal with it.  

Jenni D'Orival | 28 October 2022 at 10:09 am


Career burnout: what is it, what are the signs, what to do about it
28 October 2022 at 10:09 am

Guest blogger, Gembridge’s Jenni D’Orival unpacks career burnout and explains why it’s important you be able to spot it and deal with it.  

We’ve been hearing about burnout a lot recently in our conversations with candidates and clients. Burnout isn’t a good thing for you or your career, and it’s an important topic to discuss and to be aware of for yourself, but also, if you are manager, this is good to keep in mind when thinking about recruitment and retention of staff. In this post, we’ll look at what it is and the signs to look out for, plus we’ll explore what to do and how you can try to prevent it.

What is it?

There are a few definitions out there:

“A state of fatigue or frustration brought about by devotion to a cause, way of life, or relationship that failed to produce the expected reward.” – Herbert J. Freudenberger

“A state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion caused by long term involvement in emotionally demanding situations.” – Ayala Pines and Elliot Aronson

From our discussions and looking at the research, it seems there are some different components or symptoms of burnout, that are often experienced in combination.

Some people are feeling exhausted (physically, mentally or emotionally – or all of these!) This can be due to intensity of work and time pressures, nature of the work (and impacts this can have on emotional or mental health), unrealistic and consistently high workload, or an organisational culture of being always-on. Although this isn’t new, Covid seems to have had a pretty big impact here. It was over 2 years of extreme stress and uncertainty, blurred lines between work and home, isolation (and perhaps loneliness), increased workloads and / or less resources, and back-to-back zoom meetings – people are exhausted, and still processing and dealing with this, plus the new changes and ways of doing things post-covid.

Others feel detached, disengaged, cynical. This is often due to lack of purpose or feeling like they are getting nowhere and not making a difference. It can also stem from conflict in the workplace, lack of progression and development opportunities, lack of inclusion or engagement in decision making or feeling unheard. This leads to feeling hopeless, unmotivated, or disconnected, and feelings of “what is the point, why am I in this role, my contributions don’t matter…. I won’t bother anymore”.

And others feel they lack the resources or support to be effective. If this is ongoing, it leads to feeling like you are not achieving or being productive. If you continually are not supported or resourced, it may feel like no matter how hard you try, you’re never going to get anywhere. And when you’re not achieving, or seeing any outcomes and results, this can feel discouraging. It often leads to feelings of incompetence, self-doubt, and lack of confidence.

Interestingly (and perhaps surprisingly) this is not only experienced by those who have had a long career or working life. It seems these feelings of being overwhelmed, burnt out and stressed are being experienced by early and mid-career professionals too.

What are the signs?

What to watch out for in yourself and in your teams

According to psychologists Herbert Freudenberger and Gail North, there are 12 stages of burnout. If you suspect you, or someone in your team, is experiencing burnout, this is worth reading about as some of it may resonate (If you want to read more about the 12 stages, you could get started here).

Some common signs of burnout:

  • Constantly feeling exhausted and depleted

  • Feeling negative or cynical about your job, or disengaged

  • Reduced productivity and efficacy

  • Difficulty concentrating and taking longer to complete tasks

  • Withdrawal from friends and colleagues

  • Loss of appetite

  • Irritability and / or increased anxiety

Being aware that you are burnout, or on the road to burnout, is important. Like many things, acknowledgement is key, because then you can keep an eye on it and take action to do something about it before it really starts affecting your work performance, your career, or your overall wellbeing.

It’s just as important for managers to be aware of so they can work together with their team members to prevent it or recover from it. And why is it so important? It seems inevitable that employees who are experiencing burnout would be more likely to take sick days or be considering new opportunities and less likely to have high performance, or feel confident, engaged and satisfied at work.

What to do about it?

And how to prevent career burnout

Here are some ideas we’ve learnt ourselves or have gleaned from others:

  • Pay attention to how you’re feeling. You know yourself, so be honest. Acknowledge it if you are experiencing burnout or on the road to burn out.

  • Be proactive. Commit to taking action to do something about it.

  • Turn to others. Don’t be afraid to ask for support, or just start talking to people – your manager, family & friends, or others you feel comfortable and safe with.

  • Make balance a priority. Switch off, take some down time, take breaks (without the guilt!), make time for hobbies and interests outside of work.

  • Even though it may feel like the last thing you want to do, start working on some career goals and development plans. Get planning – revisit your career priorities, goals vision. Identity your strengths and areas for development. Even when, or especially when, you are feeling overwhelmed or burnt out, revisiting, or setting new career and development goals can be really useful to help you feel invigorated, hopeful and engaged about work again.

  • Another way to start feeling engaged again is to start exploring – use your network to find inspiration, explore content or attend webinars and courses (but be careful here – do this not because it’s another thing to add to your list that you ‘should be doing’, but because it sparks your interest and feels valuable and inspiring for you.

  • Wellbeing is your absolute priority: sleep, exercise, and health!

Jenni D'Orival  |  @ProBonoNews

Jenni D'Orival is a recruitment manager at Gembridge, specialising in the for purpose sector, managing various roles in fundraising, philanthropy, marketing and communications.


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